Saturday, September 20, 2008

Joe Black taught thousands of 6th-grade students in West Indianapolis

36 YEARS IN THE 6th GRADE. Joe Black, 85, was a public school teacher in the heart of this city for a lifetime. Joe taught 6th grade at Indianapolis Public School #49 for 36 years. 36 the same classroom, in the same school, in the same neighborhood! He died on Wednesday after a long bout with Parkinson's, leaving a legacy of inspiration in urban public education.

OTHERS SPEAK FOR HIM. Because of the debilitating impact of the disease he suffered, he was unable to talk during the past four years that I have served as pastor of the city church in which he married, attended and served for so many years. In the many times that I visited him in the hospital, rehab and nursing home, he managed only a few words. But many people I have visited and talked to in West Indianapolis and the broader community have testified abundantly to Joe's witness in life as a teacher.

PRAYER IN THE CLASSROOM. A local preacher's kid (his dad pastored this same congregation many years ago), he not only never left West Indianapolis, he continued to serve its children and youth as a teacher and mentor until his retirement. Many of his former students paid tribute to Joe during a 6-hour visitation at the church on Friday. Some spoke with fondness of the daily Scripture and Bible story readings, along with prayer, that were part of his daily public classroom practice. Several said his life and witness changed their lives.

LOOKING FORWARD. I look forward to the memorial service later today, as family, friends, congregation, and students gather in tribute and thanksgiving for his life and service among us.

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